Published on in Responsible Business

Image of Sarah Simcoe, Chair of Fujitsu's Disability Employee NetworkSarah Simcoe is our first network chair in the hot seat as we celebrate Diversity and Inclusion week. She shares her experiences as Chair of SEED, our network to support and engage employees with a disability.

What are the objectives of the SEED network?

Fujitsu’s Disability Employee Network, SEED, focuses on how we support and engage colleagues with a disability, long term injury, and condition or workplace adjustment.  Employee Networks like this help in a lot of ways. It provides a focal point for information, shared learning and support. It gives people a place to go for advice and brings people together to share experience and expertise.

To get it right we therefore have to focus on educating and raising awareness of disability issues across our business. Our Mission Statement is to “Promote and bring about inclusion and equality for individuals with disabilities, health challenges or workplace adjustment requirements”, and with the core values of #Trust #Include #Inspire our focus is on helping to underpin, support and achieve a Disability Confident organisation. 

We have an outcome focused strategy and plan that aligns to the Fujitsu Way and underpins the 5R’s: Recruitment, Retention, Representation, Realisation and Reputation.  Our plan organises itself around 4 key streams of activity: Disability Confidence, Accessibility & Enablement, Communication & Awareness and Effective Employee Network.

SEED provides a voice for employees with disabilities or workplace adjustments, increasing our reach to under-represented groups, and thereby inputting and influencing the education and awareness across the organisation.

What have you got out of being the chair of your network?

When I say life-changing I’m not exaggerating in the slightest, it really has been the most challenging and rewarding 10 months of my career – inspiring, educational, hard work, motivating, emotional and fulfilling.

In delivering our SEED strategy and plan we have had the opportunity to influence diversity and inclusion, to really help to better our working environment, improve how we do things, ensure we are supporting a respectful and inclusive workplace and absolutely leverage the talent of all of our people.  And in looking to motivate and inspire others, I am the one that has been inspired.

To listen to the powerful personal stories, to watch the dedication and commitment of passionate Network members influencing and delivering against our plan has, by far, been the most rewarding part of this year – a member of the Network told me that SEED and I had changed their life, had given them back their confidence and helped them to feel heard.

I’m passionate about people, about watching them develop, flourish and succeed and I get a huge kick out of helping others to achieve their goals and I believe absolutely that every single one of us should have the opportunity to fulfil our potential – in order to do that we must be our complete and authentic selves.

But had I always really accepted my own personal story?  No.  I have a chronic pain condition and a long term injury, the former having a significant impact on my life.  I had never really embraced and accepted those challenges, but the last ten months have taught me to do exactly that and I am perfectly comfortable and confident in being my complete and authentic self, hopefully leading by example.

Professionally I have been given a great platform, I’ve gained a greater network, I’ve created an external network connecting with other organisations at varying stages of maturity, I’ve had access to some amazing coaches and mentors and with that comes a better understanding of what it means to be a successful organisation, of how it feels to win in the right way, as a responsible business.

Why is awareness of your group so important?

The only way to affect real, long term positive change in this space is to ensure that the workplace in which we work is inclusive and respectful and that every single one of us feels heard, valued and supported.  Building trust and confidence, raising awareness and educating our people, and providing a platform to share your voice is key for any business growth.

If we get it right for ourselves, as employers, as employees, for our suppliers and for our customers, then we will continue to attract and retain our talent and we will continue to grow as an organisation.  We must be clear about our intention, that we show we are delivering and making a difference, make sure that everyone is valued, this then resonates externally with future employees, potential clients and key suppliers.  Personal stories, awareness events, learning and development, community sites, social media, external publications are all helping to make this happen.

“The business benefits of attracting and retaining disabled talent are well known. My sponsorship of the SEED network I hope, does three things. It sends a strong leadership signal that the business wants to engage with our disabled employees and colleagues.  Secondly, it enables me to hear, at first hand, what we must continue to do to in order to build an inclusive working environment.  And, thirdly it gives me an opportunity to hear about, and drive SEED to network with, other employee networks – many of whom are our customers or prospective customers.”

– Gavin Bounds, Executive Sponsor SEED & COO Fujitsu EMEIA

What have been the main highlights for your network over the past year?

One of the things I have in common with our Sponsor, Gavin Bounds, is that I love a good metric – numbers really tell the story – so, the fact that we have already exceeded most of our targets is phenomenal and a testament to the hard work and effort of our Network.   Since May last year we have seen a huge move forwards:

Target: Increase the number of SEED network members from 220 to 450

Progress:  Members stand at 645, that’s a 222% increase

Target:  Increase the number of employees with Disability & Adjustment Passport from 96 to 200

Progress:  Exceeded – 257 employees with a Passport, that’s an increase of 55%

Target:  Increase number of employees sharing that they have a disability – Increase to 500

Progress:  Currently stands at 430, that’s a 40% increase since May and we are hopefully on target

Over the past year, how much has your group grown?

As you can see from the above metrics, we have seen a huge amount of growth!  At the start of the year we had 200 members, and we have grown this into a network of over 645 people, and counting.  We’ve increased our engagement across Fujitsu’s key activities such as system accessibility testing and policy and process reviews, we have delivered webinars and awareness events and have embraced blogging and social media.

Our first external communication channel was launched this year via Twitter which has over 600 followers and is growing.  We are growing our external profile through collaboration with Disability confident campaign, PurpleSpace and #AXSChat. Our profile is externally noted by organisations such as Business Disability Forum and Kate Nash Associates – I’m thrilled at how we have grown and long may it continue.

What do you see as your main challenges?

Time, always time. There is so much to do and it’s always a challenge getting time to plan and action activities – remember that this is a Network of volunteers, all committed to support and deliver and do so over and above their day job, so we do beg, borrow and steal.  Progress to date has been down to the Working Group getting involved, allocating Champions for key areas such as Accessibility, Social Media, Community Management and Webinars. We are extremely organised in our approach, if it’s not going to add value to our employees, managers, suppliers, partners or customers then it’s not a priority.

What are you looking forward to over the next 12 months?

#BeCompletelyYou as a campaign and theme was born out of SEED last year, with the first SEED #BeCompletelyYou event delivered in October 2015.  The event focused on the importance of being ourselves in the workplace, for all employees to feel that they can be their authentic self at work and find confidence and comfort in being themselves.

With guest speakers from Mouse Disability, Kate Nash Associates, Business Disability Forum as well as our own ICT and Technology Product Groups, the event was a huge success and has led the way to a series of activities scheduled by SEED throughout 2016 as well as the #BeCompletelyYou theme being adopted as part of our Fujitsu’s D&I Week, a great fit and applicable to all Inclusion Networks.

The coming year will focus on continuing with #BeCompletelyYou with our SEED roadshows as well as external collaboration with other organisation Networks and I’m really excited about taking this forward.  I’m also really looking forward to the ongoing development of our Network and its members, already I have been so impressed and inspired and have no doubt that there is more to come.  We also have some exciting news to share in March…watch this space.

How do you work with the other Fujitsu Diversity and Inclusion networks?

The D&I Networks all face different challenges so what works for one network might not necessarily work for another, however we have recognised that employees need to access our information quickly and easily so the plan is to at least make sure all the Networks content is presented in a consistent and accessible way, we are therefore working together to create that consistency through our Community Sites and there is a piece of work to standardise across all.

We are also working together to develop a network of Champions covering areas such as Cancer, Autism & Asperger’s, AIDS / HIV. These single points of contacts will have 2-3 key objectives for the year and will look to our cross-network Working Groups for support. Working across networks is a greater opportunity for us to get better momentum around topics that really matter to us.

What advice would you give to network groups that aren’t as developed as yours?

I’m a huge fan of telling our stories, it’s one of the primary tools we’ve used to create momentum in delivering against our plan, increasing awareness and disability confidence and raising the profile of SEED – the power of a personal story is not to be under-estimated, it builds a true connection as well as raising awareness and confidence.

I’m also a big user of social media and see it as a proven mechanism for sharing those personal stories, a way to connect, connect with people that may not have the opportunity to engage with our Community in any other way.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, all excellent ways of creating direct contact, engaging, listening and learning, building relationships and providing a platform for change.

A successful network also needs to be organised, and part of building any great network and plan is understanding what you are trying to achieve, what will make a difference, what is going to add value back in to the business and what your priorities are – all really pertinent questions when building an outcome based strategy and plan that will deliver.  Organising yourselves around that shared common goal is essential to ensuring you keep people bought in and momentum is ongoing.  ‘Fail to plan…plan to fail’, wise words Mr Churchill!

Follow SEED on Twitter for regular updates @Fujitsu_UK_SEED

Visit Business Disability Forum to find out more about building a disability smart organisation.

Visit PurpleSpace to find out how employee networks can benefit your organisation.

Watch our video of SEED members discussing their experiences at work.

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